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Allergen labelling rules mean people with food allergies and intolerances are more confident about eating out, says FSA

Since the introduction of allergen information rules in 2014, are people with food allergies and intolerances more confident about eating out?

Are people with food allergies and intolerances more confident about eating out - A Free From Life

Over 2 million people in the UK have a food allergy, with an estimated 600,000 having coeliac disease and in acknowledgement of this, in December 2014, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) changed the way food businesses had to provide allergen information to consumers.

To understand the effect of this change, the Food Standards Agency commissioned detailed research on a UK representative sample of people with food allergies and intolerances. Undertaken by the University of Bath, the study focused on consumer preferences when eating out, both before and after the implementation of the EU FIC.

The study also compared views from consumers on how food businesses responded to the allergen rules pre and post-implementation.

The research found that, following the introduction of the new food allergen labelling rules:

  • 70% of food allergic and intolerant consumers feel more confident in asking staff for allergen information
  • 56% of food allergic and intolerant consumers value staff more as a source of information
  • 44% of food allergic and intolerant consumers are more ‘adventurous’ about eating out
  • 67% feel allergen information on food business websites is dependable
  • 63% say talking to the chef about their allergen needs can be relied on
  • 35% report an improvement in allergen information in the menu.

Those with food allergies and intolerances feel more confident about eating out and are more likely to eat out than they used to, according to this research. Equally, they are more likely to return to and recommend venues where the staff are helpful and attentive about their allergen needs.

Providing detailed and accurate allergen information is good for business

Heather Hancock, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘Everyone should be able to trust their food. When people live with a food allergy or intolerance that can make them really ill or be life threatening, that trust becomes critical. This new research shows that many food businesses have a good understanding of the allergen information rules, with the result that consumers trust them and feel confident that they’ll be safe when eating out.

‘I’m delighted that we’ve been able to work with food businesses to make such a difference, improving public health and enhancing choice and confidence for millions. Some, often smaller, food businesses haven’t got on top of providing allergen information yet. I hope this research helps them see the importance of meeting their obligations and the benefits it delivers. At the FSA, we’ll be increasing our efforts to ensure businesses understand their responsibilities and their customer.’

Do you agree with these findings? How do you find your experiences of eating out? Personally, I think the labelling legislation for food establishments is a good thing. It has definitely made restaurant owners more aware of their obligations to cater for allergies. On the other hand, some restaurants feel it is enough to provide information about what is in their food, without actually fulfilling a need to cater for those with special dietary needs. On occasion, we have gone out to eat, been given a ‘catalogue’ of information containing everything that is in every dish on offer, only to find we can’t actually order anything for our son who is both dairy and gluten intolerant.

It is one thing to offer this information, but what point does it serve, if he can’t eat anything?

In most, good and knowledgeable restaurants, you only deal with the manager or head chef when it comes to dietary needs and in our experience, when we have a special request, like gluten and dairy free, they will offer to make something suitable.

I would love to be able to go into a coffee shop and freely choose something both dairy and gluten free though. That is yet to happen in most establishments near to me. Gluten free, yes, dairy free, perhaps but unlikely, both – well, you might find one thing if you’re lucky and whilst everyone else tucks into a sandwich, you are left feeling a little excluded as you nibble on your dark chocolate coated coffee beans, or something similar!


The realities of living with IBS

Today I’ve had a terrible day as far as my IBS is concerned. The irony is, I’d only just been thinking to myself yesterday how good it’s been.

FODMAPS and IBS - A Free From Life

In fact, I’ve been feeling pretty good all round, which I put down to taking a multivitamin designed specifically for women, along with a vitamin B complex. I’d been feeling ridiculously tired before I started on these supplements, in a way that didn’t feel down to the stresses and strains of normal life or even my age. I craved to have even just a smidgen of energy to get me through the day.

After some health concerns earlier this year, that has led to me having a few tests, including a colonoscopy (not nice) and a hydrogen breath test, the only thing the results showed up is that I have some fermentation going on in my lower intestine. This means food is taking longer than it should to pass through and a little colony of bacteria have set up home to take advantage of that. It’s the supposed reason for my stomach pains.

What anyone with IBS will tell you, though, is how the pains can come seemingly out of nowhere.

It’s often the case where you can’t for the life of you fathom what could have caused it. To go from feeling fine and relatively pain free for a reasonable length of time and then suddenly be struck down and spending all day feeling nauseous, is pretty depressing.

I just started taking probiotics again and am left wondering could that be the cause? Probiotics are meant to be the good guys, but that’s not to say there isn’t something in the pill that could cause problems, if you are particularly sensitive. The ones I take say they may contain milk as it is used in the media where the bacterial strains grow.

My life without dairy is proving successful in terms of clear skin and all-round general well being. It has definitely made a difference to me.

I’m thankful to have no major health concerns, but I guess I’ve become a little complacent during my ‘well period’ and forgotten what it’s like to suffer an IBS attack. My symptoms today I would describe as being like a hangover. With a dull headache and a feeling of being zapped of all energy, the sickness I’ve been feeling goes away temporarily every time I eat, but soon after leaves me feeling worse than before.

It’s annoying at best and debilitating at worst; these collective symptoms that have no apparent one-cause or cure. For anyone else who suffers like this, know that you are not alone, nor are you crazy or a hypochondriac. Keep pushing through the pain and hopefully one day, we will find a way to beat this.


UK Allergy Blog Awards finalist

I’m an Allergy Blog Awards UK finalist

Wowsers, I only went and made it to the final of the UK Allergy Blog Awards didn’t I?

That’s down to all those of you who read and support this blog, so thank you. I appreciate it, I really do.

I’m honoured and privileged to be among some of the top allergy bloggers in the UK and I’m both excited and nervous about meeting them at the awards ceremony next year.

This blog is a resource for those with multiple food intolerance. I mainly cook dairy and gluten free for my son, but as I avoid nightshades too, I have to adapt recipes accordingly. The main point I want to prove is that it can be done.

Being gluten free is a lifestyle choice for many now and it’s not so difficult to be catered for when you go out to a restaurant. Being both dairy and gluten free is still a problem and I find it increasingly frustrating because the two often go hand in hand, particularly where children are concerned. So I may moan a lot about restaurants and other catering establishments, but I feel it’s imperative to keep hammering this point home. That is another reason why this blog is so important to me.

We went to a hotel complex in Tenerife back in October and the chefs there made desserts for my son everyday. They were incredible creations that I couldn’t believe were dairy free and kept having to ask the waiters to check. But they were and those chefs proved that you can make something amazing without dairy and with a bit of imagination.

You would be amazed how much a dairy intolerant person appreciates that bit of effort, especially a child.

What to expect from ‘A ‘Free-From’ Life

Going forward, I will continue to share my successful recipes. I intend to document some easy dairy hacks for things like ‘cheese’ sauce and whipped ‘cream’ desserts and I hope to share my discoveries as I attempt to uncover what is really behind my IBS symptoms.

I hope you continue to follow this blog and enjoy, and make use of, the posts on here. If there is anything you would like to see, please feel free to get in touch with me. Perhaps it’s a dessert you really miss, or something you’ve been craving but can’t have anymore. Maybe you just want to know more about how to cut something out of your diet without having to miss out too much. I will do my best to help you.

Whatever the outcome at the Allergy Blog Awards final next year, the important point is, there are a number of us bloggers out there doing our best to help people with allergies and food intolerances. We want to promote awareness of the issues and show that although sufferers may be a minority, they are growing in numbers and need a voice to support them.

I will leave you with this…

Our Sunday roast dinner last week included pork belly with crackling, roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower cheese and Yorkshire puddings. All homemade and of course, dairy and gluten free. We were all so stuffed, we couldn’t eat dessert. You don’t need to go hungry when you have a food intolerance!

Dairy free cauliflower cheese - A Free From Life


Do children’s menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy?

Do children's menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy? - A Free From Life

Do children's menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy? - A Free From Life

I took two of my children out for dinner on Friday for a treat. Husband and eldest daughter were both out, so we thought, why not?

It’s hard to eat out though, if you’re intolerant to dairy and wheat.

Whilst I can’t fault the management of the restaurant we went to – he was more than happy to sort something out for my son to eat – there wasn’t a single thing on the children’s menu that he could have.

Giving a customer an allergens menu isn’t enough.

All it told me was there was very little on the entire menu that didn’t contain both gluten and dairy.

What I don’t understand is, should it be so difficult to put together a menu that doesn’t contain these things? Do all children’s menus have to be so gluten and dairy heavy?

Here are the items on the children’s menu:
Fish fingers, Cumberland sausage, chicken burger, barbeque ribs and macaroni with cheese sauce or tomato and basil sauce.

According to the allergens menu, all these items contain gluten and dairy, which to me doesn’t make sense. I look at this menu and think how easy it would be to provide gluten free pasta with a tomato sauce, plain chicken fillet and source gluten free sausages. There should also be an alternative to fries (coated in wheat) and mashed potato.

What did my son eat?

Well, given that his choice was either burger without the bun or a chicken skewer, he went for the chicken. Not being a fan of mashed potato, they said would he like baked beans and some salad and that was it, the extent of his choice.


As someone who regularly makes meals and bakes gluten and dairy free, I know it can be done and I also know it doesn’t even have to be difficult.

Why does everything have to be coated in breadcrumbs? Even the fries have wheat on them and they are potatoes!

A piece of grilled chicken or salmon is just as popular with children as chicken nuggets are, aren’t they? Well, they are with mine anyway.

Some steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes to go with it? Not difficult at all. And how difficult would it be to keep some gluten free pasta in stock?

I seriously get fed up of being given an allergens menu as if a restaurant is doing me a favour, when all they’re actually doing is ticking a box and depressing the hell out of me because the choice is so limited.

Gluten free may be a popular choice for many now, but what restaurant owners need to wake up to is that many who are gluten intolerant are also dairy intolerant too and many of these are children.

Our children don’t need deep fried breaded food. Good quality, relatively plain dinners are a much better choice and I’m sure most parents would agree.

Yes, this is a rant of a post today, but I’ll say it now and I will keep saying it until hopefully we see some changes.


Living with multiple food intolerances & a nomination for an award

A 'Free-From' Life

I’m honoured to find myself nominated for a UK Allergy Blog Award 2017 in the category of Nutritional Advice for excluding certain food groups and/or catering for food allergies.

You can vote for me by following this link.

A 'Free-From' Life

Why should you vote for ‘A ‘Free-From’ Life’?

I’ve written extensively about why I started this blog; the issues my son faced with his early development and my struggle to get a diagnosis for him. The short of it is that my youngest son is dairy and gluten intolerant and since being diagnosed, the way we eat as a family has changed to cater for his needs. It’s not easy to live with multiple food intolerances and I hope that by sharing my finds and success stories, I can help others in a similar position.

As a parent of a child with dietary needs, I absorb all of the stress and hassle out of finding something suitable to eat when we go out and about. I take any failings personally, along with being made to feel awkward and fussy. I also take the good moments to heart and they give me as much pleasure as they do my son.

One of my favourite moments was when we visited Baby Cakes Bakery in New York and told my son he could choose anything he wanted. When you are dairy intolerant, you can rarely eat anything from a bakery. Everything in Baby Cakes is dairy, wheat, gluten, egg and soya free, so watching his face light up and seeing his delight when tucking into a chocolate donut was one of the highlights of a very special trip.

A 'Free-From' Life

Little things like that make it all worthwhile.

Living with multiple food intolerances isn’t easy, but we do the best we can. By sharing our ups and downs along the way, I hope to highlight the issues and bring attention to the importance of catering for different dietary needs.

If you think this blog is worthy of an award, you can vote for me by following this link. Thank you so much for all your support.


Low muscle tone, hypermobility & food intolerance – their effect on childhood development

Low muscle tone, hypermobility & food intolerance - their effect on childhood development - A Free From Life
Photo courtesy of chrisroll/

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. Then I found out I’d been nominated for an award and it put the post to the front of my mind again. I mean me, little old me and my little old blog? It’s a lovely honour that someone should think of this little corner of the virtual world as being a contender for the Allergy Blog Awards UK and it is a reminder of why I started it in the first place. That’s what I wanted to talk about today. Continue Reading


Making sure children with a cow’s milk allergy or intolerance get enough calcium and vitamin D

Making sure children with a cow's milk allergy or intolerance get enough calcium and vitamin D - A Free From Life
Photo via Southern CrossFit/Flickr
Making sure children with a cow's milk allergy or intolerance get enough calcium and vitamin D - A Free From Life
Photo via Southern CrossFit/Flickr

As a mother of a child with a dairy intolerance, I worry about making sure he gets enough calcium and vitamin D. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale, along with seafood and tinned fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines are all excellent sources of calcium.

Let’s face it though, they’re not child friendly foods are they?

A recent study, conducted between 2011 and 2014, compared 52 children with cow’s milk allergy (all around aged seven) with 29 children who had other allergies. The researchers measured total body composition, blood vitamin D levels and lumbar spine bone mineral density. They also assessed dietary calcium and vitamin D intake using questionnaires.

More than 60% of the children with a cow’s milk allergy were not getting the daily recommended amount of calcium in their diet compared with 25% of the children with other food allergies. In addition, less than 15% of both groups met the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin D. The children with a cow’s milk allergy were also found to have low bone mineral density.

Not to be confused with dairy intolerance, a cow’s milk allergy causes a severe (in some cases) allergic response.

Nevertheless, whether avoiding dairy products due to either intolerance or allergy, both result in reduced calcium in the diet. Given that the main source of calcium and vitamin D for children usually comes in the form of milk, yoghurt and cheese, it is no surprise that children who have to avoid it are at risk of not getting enough.

I’m fortunate that my son does like broccoli, kale and spinach and I make sure we have some form of dark green vegetables with every meal. He even likes sardines, however, I’m also conscious that he doesn’t eat these things in the same quantity as you might eat dairy products. To make up for that I also give him a multi vitamin and mineral supplement specially formulated for his age group (he’s seven).

In addition, I buy a dairy alternative to milk that has added calcium. His favourite (and mine) is Koko Dairy Free. You can also find other foods that are supplemented with calcium. These include breakfast cereals and fruit juices (though take care to avoid those with a high level of added sugar).

It’s difficult to maintain a healthy diet for a child who has a food allergy or intolerance, particularly if they have to avoid more than one food group. We do our best though, conscious of what they are missing out on, both from a nutritional perspective and also from a psychological point of view. I know my son copes very well knowing he can’t eat the same as other people, but I occasionally find him looking longingly his sisters’ food. He understand why though and it’s a pleasure for both him and I when we happen upon a dairy free treat that allows him a little bit of indulgence.

What are your tips for getting more calcium and vitamin D into your kids?

Health, Snacks

No bake protein energy balls

Raw protein balls - A Free From Life

Raw protein balls - A Free From Life

I love making these energy balls. Call them what you like: raw protein balls, energy balls, no bake protein balls, you can find many variations. Essentially, though, they’re all a version of the same thing.

What I didn’t like about the recipes I found, was that most seemed to add either honey or dates to bind the mixture and add a little sweetness.

After quitting sugar over Lent, I’m trying to maintain that lifestyle and even if I kid myself that a little honey won’t harm, it will in terms of adding sweetness back in to my life and leading to cravings again.

Honey and dates are still sugar, even if they are in another form.

That’s why I took all the ingredients I love and made my own version.

Raw protein balls - A Free From Life

My daughter loves these. She does over 12 hours of gymnastics a week and therefore needs something energy-packed after school to help her get through training.

One or two of these protein balls is more than enough to fill you and keep you sustained.

If you’re used to having sugar, you might find these bitter. Think of bitter chocolate truffles and that’s kind of what you’re getting. Rolling each ball in a little cinnamon though, adds just a touch of sweetness to balance out the cacao.

Raw protein balls - A Free From Life
No bake protein energy balls
Print Recipe
A no sugar raw protein energy to treat
Servings Prep Time
14 15 mins
Servings Prep Time
14 15 mins
Raw protein balls - A Free From Life
No bake protein energy balls
Print Recipe
A no sugar raw protein energy to treat
Servings Prep Time
14 15 mins
Servings Prep Time
14 15 mins
  1. Weigh the almonds and hazelnuts in to a food processor and blitz until chopped very fine
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until fully incorporated
  3. Form the mixture into ball and either roll in cinnamon, or sprinkle on top
  4. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving, then store in the fridge in an air tight container
Recipe Notes
Free From Farmhouse
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